23 December 2014

thinking about a solo Christmas about 20 years ago

My family is supposed to gather for Christmas dinner at my sister Carol's house in Branchport. She and Barb will prepare the meat and the rest of us will fill in around the edges. My sack of potatoes and yams, with a pound of butter, is waiting in the front hallway. Barb had been in the hospital over the weekend but is home now. Jeanette is up there already, helping prepare space and food. Doug called a while ago to see when I was going up and reported that there was some weather concern. Doug and Ian will probably go up today. I don't especially look forward to the idea of being stuck in Alfred while they're all up there but thinking about that has reminded me of a Christmas I did very happily spend alone, probably 1994, when I was living in Texas.

I had been reading about Our Lady of Dallas, a Cistercian abbey on the outskirts of Dallas in Irving. The church was designed by Gary Cunningham, a Dallas architect, and completed in 1992. Built in that wonderful sandstone you see around Texas, I had wanted to see it and figured that I'd just go to Christmas mass and listen to the Cistercians filling that space.
It was lovely. After mass, I went off to visit the Solana corporate park designed in the mid 1980s by Ricardo Legorreta. It was decorated for Christmas.
And then on to Decatur, another of those great county seats with a central square and courthouse. Much has been written about the courthouses of Texas. When coming back from Albuquerque to Fort Worth one time, I did county seat-hopping across western Texas southeast from Amarillo and Canyon. It's mostly flat country, the counties are about equal-sized, and the county seat is often central and on the principal blue highway. The route therefore becomes rather like steps. Anyway, I meandered around the mostly empty Decatur, listening to the piped Christmas music around the central square.
I don't remember feeling the least bit lonely. Being alone does not mean you're lonely, just like being in a crowd doesn't necessarily mean you're feeling cherished.

So I'm not sure how this Christmas will work out if the weather turns crazy (wintry mix being the last choice) but I'm willing to try another solo if necessary.

11 December 2014

hoarding or just too much love of objects

Today's mailing from The New Yorker brought me a link to "Too Much Stuff: Are We Becoming a Nation of Hoarders?" by Joan Acocella. She, not surprisingly, talks about the Collyer Brothers and the Beales, Andy Warhol and the "Hoarders" reality TV show, as well as about her mother and the psychiatric studies of hoarding and, sigh, H.D. (hoarding disorder). I do have a lot of stuff in the family house, the house I currently occupy as the fifth generation. It was built by my great-grandfather and his father-in-law. There is stuff here from each and all of those generations. Mine is just the top layer of the archeology.

Still, I had an "I love my books" experience earlier this week. I have decided to go on the College Art Association-sponsored trip to the Havana Bienal in Cuba in May 2015. The agenda includes an event at the National Art Schools. I had bought the Lonely Planet Cuba guide a couple years ago when Moira and I were dreaming about a trip to Cuba. I knew I had bought the Princeton Architectural Press monograph on the Schools and it did, alas, take me a while to find it among the several thousand books I have. (There is a reason for classifying your books, at least informally by topic.) I found it and saw that I'd bought it at Storefront for Art and Architecture in November 2004. I checked my journal and saw that the Storefront exhibition was then so I checked the compilation of the Storefront newsletter and found the newsletter issue that came out concurrently with the show. Clearly, my collection development policy is working, for me.

Images of the National Art Schools, built in the early days of the Cuban Revolution where the country club had been. The Schools appeared on the World Monuments Fund Watch List in 2000 and 2002. They are now protected and being restored.
(photos selected rather randomly from an image search on "national art schools cuba")

Now if I stayed home and sorted things, perhaps I could work my way through some of my stuff and that of other members and generations of my family. But it's more fun to have my books where I can use them and read them. On the other hand, who knows what adventures and trouble I could get into if I just had one suitcase and the clothes on my back.

03 December 2014

Calatrava: lakefront or crowded streets?

Last week in NYC, I meandered around the World Trade Center area, mostly to look at the WTC Transportation Hub, designed by Santiago Calatrava and about ten bazillion dollars over budget and as many days behind schedule (not that that's more than a drop in the bucket relative to the costs of destroying Iraq and Afghanistan). It's all jammed up against towers and won't have room to flap its wings.

Just a few months ago, I was in Milwaukee for the VRA annual conference and got to (finally) see the Quadracci Pavilion extension of the Milwaukee Art Museum, designed a dozen years ago by Calatrava. It is perched on the Lake Michigan lakefront.
It doesn't seem to me that there's any contest: such a building as either of these works better as a sculpture in a garden than along a street. Still, an occasional break in the streetfront like the Guggenheim Museum by Frank Lloyd Wright can be refreshing.

02 December 2014

nineteen showings

When I was in NYC last week, I went to The Imitation Game
on Thanksgiving evening. It's the new movie about Alan Turing, the mathematician who led the effort to break the Enigma code that the Germans used during World War II. He committed suicide in 1954 after being prosecuted for homosexual acts with a sentence of estrogen treatments. The Queen pardoned him in 2013, almost sixty years after his death. The movie, starring Benedict Cumberbatch, is to be officially released on Christmas but it is already showing in New York. Today's advertisement in the New York Times for the movie at the Angelika Film Center indicates that it would be shown nineteen times today! I guess there is some interest in the story. Robert reminded me that there was 1996 TV movie on Turing entitled Breaking the Code, starring Derek Jacobi.

30 November 2014

"dissonance made eloquent"

I just got back to Alfred after spending most of Thanksgiving week in New York City, cat-sitting for Tigris and Euphrates out in Ridgewood, Queens. Thanks for the job, John. There's a 6:30 pm bus from Port Authority that gets into Alfred at 1:15 am. I like that bus because you can get stuff done in the city and sleep on the bus rather than spending lots of daylight hours on the bus, not that looking at the Catskills and Southern Tier is a problem. So I dozed on the bus and went to bed pretty quickly after the bus got me home in the early morning. Got up in the morning and went off to Wellsville after my morning walk. The convenience store here in Alfred used to carry the Sunday Times but they don't anymore. So it's off to Tops Supermarket in Wellsville and then pancakes and one sunnyside egg at the Texas Hot. I usually sit at the counter and there's plenty of room for me, my paper, and my food. This morning, I was toward the kitchen end of the counter and a bit later than usual. After a bit, I found myself cheek-by-jowl with several of the employees as they ate their breakfast (French toast and sausage) or lunch (salad), but not brunch. Whatever meal was appropriate for their "lifestyle." There were different conversations on either side, mostly about life, but they were more "there" than the conversations in New York City. Not really intrusive but not ignorable either.

As I sit here several hours later, reading "In Praise of Impracticality" by Bill Hayes in the Sunday Review section of the Times, I am struck by his description of what a New Yorker misses when not in town. "By this, I don't mean missing the Rockettes at Radio City, New Year's Eve in Times Square, or some amazing exhibit at the Met. In New York, there is always something amazing happening somewhere that one ends up hearing about only later. What I meant instead was missing the evanescent, the eavesdropped, the unexpected: a snowfall that blankets the city and turns it into a peaceful new world. Or, in summer, the sight of the first fireflies in the park at twilight. The clop-clop of horses' hooves on cobblestones in the West Village, mounted police patrolling late at night, or a lovers' quarrel within earshot of all passers-by. Of course, what is music to my ears may be intolerable to another's. Life here is a John Cage score, dissonance made eloquent."

That's it: in Alfred or Wellsville, the nearby conversation butts into your consciousness and it's difficult to ignore, partly because you're likely to be considered rude or unfriendly or you actually know who it is they're talking about. Probably no one on South Main Street was delighted to hear the "clop-clop" of my suitcase wheels as I came up from the bus stop a bit after one in the morning. The sidewalk was a slushy mess and there were no cars on the street.

24 November 2014

Shadow Country, Mother Nature, and poetry

Shadow Country by Peter Matthiessen is a grand book: in scope, in narrative, in size at almost 900 pages. It's a grand read all along but, every once in a while, there's a passage that is particularly wonderful. To wit ... (on pages 660-661 of the Modern Library paperback edition)

One afternoon over lemonade and cookies, discussing our [Everglades] wilderness with the children, she quoted some opinions of the poets. A Miss Dickinson of New England had concluded that the true nature of Nature was malevolent, whereas the self-infatuated Mr. Whitman of New York found undomesticated Nature merely detestable. What could such people know of Nature, Mandy inquired, pointing at that huge motionless gray-green beast across the river: nature was not malevolent, far less detestable, but simply oblivious, indifferent, and God's indifference as manifested in such creatures was infinitely more terrifying than literary notions of malevolence could ever be. To regard such an engine of predation without awe, or dare to dismiss it as detestable -- wasn't that to suggest that the Creator might detest His own Creation?

"How about the mosquitoes?" complained Eddie, ever anxious to return indoors.

Lucius led us to the nest of red-winged blackbirds, parting the tall reeds so we could see. Losing its mate after the eggs had hatched to a snake or hawk, or owl, the male bird, flashing his flaming shoulders, had simply resumed his endless song about himself (like Mr. Walter Whitman, said Mandy, smiling), by dint of which he won a second female, and now this pair was busily engaged in constructing its new nest on top of the old one -- on top, that is, of the live young, which were squeaking and struggling to push their hungry bills up through the twigs. The horrified children longed to rescue the trapped victims, although this meant that the second clutch would be destroyed. Lucius forbade this and his mother nodded. "Even victims are not innocent," she whispered to no one in particular. "They are simply present. They are simply in the way."

Instinctively I had to agree, though Lucius and I could never explain to each other just what she meant. Her words made me feel odd. One moment a man bathing in the river celebrates his sparkling life and the next he is seized by the unseen and dragged beneath the surface, which moves on downriver as placid as before. God's will, Mandy would say. Man's fate, I agreed. Are they the same? But since long ago I had lost all faith, Mandy knew it was useless to discuss this.

21 November 2014

crystalline plans

The Bergren Forum this week was on "Multiphase Ceramics for Nuclear Energy" with S.K. Sundaram, a researcher in the Inamori School of Engineering at Alfred University. I won't surprise you to know that I was struggling to keep up with the description of the research on ceramic and glass materials that are being studied as receptacles for nuclear waste. A ways into the talk, Sundaram showed some pictures of crystals and I had some context. This isn't the one he showed but it has some of the same feel. This is perovskite from http://galleryhip.com/crystal-structure-minerals.html.

It looked like a view down on a ranch house in Texas designed by Lake|Flato or the Talbot House on Nevis Island by Taft Architects. Here's the Talbot House and its plan from the Taft Architects website: